The two doctors on duty in the Wenlou clinic have to deal with more than 400 desperate Aids patients each day. People scramble to get whatever they can from the tiny clinic window where free painkillers and antibiotics are usually available. With so many patients, individual diagnosis is almost impossible. Patients wheeled up to the clinic in carts often have to wait for hours before nurses even have time to set up an intravenous drip for them. Many patients carry the intravenous bag and tube around with them outside the clinic. Many are not sure whether the infusion of glucose helps, but just touching medical equipment provides some psychological comfort. Wenlou is supposed to be a showcase village for the central government's efforts to deal with the Aids crisis, but only one of the nine doctors, nurses, and pharmacists has training to treat Aids patients. 'If you ask me, what we want most [is training],' said one physician. 'I really hope that each one of us in this clinic has one round of training.' Foreign NGOs have offered training and medical assistance to Henan , but only a small number have been allowed to help, according to NGO workers. In nearby Shuangmiao village in Zhecheng county, a doctor and two nurses handle more than a hundred Aids patients a day. One nurse said she was originally a barefoot doctor in the village before the government hired her, and she had no formal training. 'But I know how to handle the patients. They came to see me before I start working for the government clinic,' she said. The acute shortage of trained health workers is the main reason why programmes provided by the government have failed. Many Aids patients suffer from opportunistic infections, such as skin infections, which could be easily relieved if they received proper treatment early on. Marc Lenzi, medical co-ordinator of Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) in Beijing, said that when opportunistic infections are not treated properly, patients lose trust in doctors and become more likely to drop out of antiretroviral therapy. He said better follow-up by doctors would help patients deal with Aids-related infections and encourage them to keep taking their antiretroviral medication. Due to patent restrictions, China can only manufacture five generic Aids drugs. The limited choice of drugs has made it more difficult to control side effects. In Thailand and some other developing countries, patients are given combinations of antiretroviral drugs which have fewer side effects. Some people with Aids have resorted to taking drugs smuggled into the country. Wang Cuizhi almost died two years ago from an Aids-related illness. Her sons had enough money to buy drugs from India. 'We spent 10,000 to 20,000 yuan to buy medicine. At that time I could not get up at all,' she said. Ms Wang recovered from her critical illness and is well enough to walk around the house without difficulty. Dr Lenzi said smuggling should be discouraged and he urged the government to import generic drugs until China produces its own. He said self-medication, or the phenomenon of patients starting then dropping out of the government's antiretroviral drug programme, could lead to the creation of a drug-resistant strain of HIV. 'China should try to import WHO pre-qualified generic drugs while developing the capacity to manufacture fixed-dose combination drugs. Otherwise, by the time China can provide good drugs, the virus will be resistant to them.' Many others with Aids have turned to herbalists for help. Some herbalists claim to be Aids experts with magical formulas passed down by their ancestors. Patients who put their trust in these claims sometimes pay a dear price. Zhai Lanying , 50, from Wenlou said herbal medicine had made her health worse. 'I was only a [HIV] carrier before and after I took the medicine, the symptoms show and I am a full-blown [Aids] patient now,' she said. It is difficult for most patients to tell if their treatment - be it from a herbalist or a doctor - is working. A test to determine virus load costs more than 1,000 yuan. 'I have to put my hope in herbal medicine. I believe one day someone can invent something miraculous to treat my disease,' said Li Ru , also from Wenlou village. Positive Lives, an exhibition of 250 photographs from around the world showing ordinary people living with HIV/Aids starts today in Hong Kong. Included is a series of images from Henan documenting how a blood-buying scheme led to widespread infection among poor rural people. Positive Lives is at the Hong Kong Central Library, Causeway Bay, until May 24, 9am-8pm, admission free. Inquiries: HK Aids Foundation 2560 8528.